The Best Picture Winners: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

| February 6, 2018

Oscar’s 90th birthday is just around the corner and to celebrate, every other day from now through March 4th, I will be taking a look at each and every film selected for his top award – the good, the bad and the sometimes not-so deserving.

At a moment in cinema history when Hollywood aims so low and expects so much, Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Lord of the Rings trilogy was kind of an enigma.  After every studio had turned it down, New Line Cinema took a bold $300,000,000 gamble on a project that eventually took seven whole years to get from the page to the screen.  It could have been a tremendous lead balloon – a sort-of Heaven’s Gate for the new millennium – but it paid off, not only making a lot of money but garnering a massive legion of passionate fans.

It wasn’t a surprise that the film would be embraced by the members of the voting academy, but how they would deal with the trilogy was a big question mark.  The three films had been released one per year, so how were they going to reward it?  The simple answer was the most obvious; they waited until the final leg of the trilogy to effectively honor the entire thing all in one big package.  The films were released one year apart and all were nominated for Best Picture, but the previous two had only won awards for their technical merits.

The Return of the King won every award for which it was nominated, tying for the most wins (11) with Ben Hur and Titanic. As a Best Picture winner, it trumped them all: It had the longest running time; it held the longest title (trumping Around the World in 80 Days); it was the second sequel ever to win (after The Godfather Part II); it was the first second-sequel to win; it was the first fantasy film to win the award; and it was the most expensive film ever to win, etc. etc, etc.

I am always happy to see a good film gain a legions of admirers (as a Star Wars fan, I can relate). I like The Lord of the Rings films because they are a work of stunning vision and imagination employing the best production values to a story that is timeless. Jackson and his effects wizards created entirely new and magical places.  Of the three films, I think The Return of the King is, by far, the best because it draws conclusions, unlike the previous two which got mired in meandering character developments and wait-and-see plot developments that, to be honest, kind of tried my patience.

And here’s where I start to lose friends:

While I admire these epics, I am not among the series’ more ravenous admirers.  I liked the scope of its canvas and the enormous effort that went into the spectacle, but I find the characters a bit stiff and I find the movie (especially this one), a bit drawn out. Return of the King takes so long to get where it’s going that I lost interest because the emotional involvement runs short of the running time. I am also impatient with the ending (there are six of them!!). While I realize that the book ended the same way, after sitting for three hours, I grow a little restless.  The emotional investment that I’m suppose to have as Sam and Frodo’s journey draws to a close doesn’t land with the same impact that I might have hoped.  I cared about what was going to happen but the film ends on so many notes and with so many characters that I found myself privately just wanting them to be over with.  But those problems are my problems.  A generation has taken these films to their hearts and I wish them well.  For me, I’ll stick with lightsabers and Jedi drama, thanks very much.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.